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History of the Anorak

In the 17th Century, Anne of the Rack decided to make a coat with a hood that kept out the rain.

Naturally she was accused of witchcraft from not getting her hair wet, and thus she was sentenced to death. She narrowly escaped the executioner's blade when he chopped her hood off instead of her head. Then she jumped from the big castle by using the hood as a parachute.

After many years hiding in the woods she opened a shop on the beach to show others her wonderful creation, and thus the Ann-o-rak was born. It soon became populer among beachcombers. If you believe this, you probably believe anything.

Seriously Now...

For a piece of gear that most people have in their wardrobe, the pace of innovation has been rather slow. Let's take a brief walk along the dripping rainwear history trail. Mind the puddles.

Eskimo Origins

The word 'Anorak' comes from the Kalaallisut Eskimos. It did not appear in English until 1924; an early definition is "gay beaded item worn by Greenland women or brides in the 1930s".

Anoraks were originally made from caribou or seal leather, invented by the Caribou Inuit (Eskimo) of the Arctic region, who needed clothing that would protect them from wind chill and wetness while hunting and kayaking. Certain types of Inuit anoraks have to be regularly coated with fish oil to keep their water resistance.

Before the 1800’s people made do with waxed cotton or animal hides that protected them from the rain. Being out in the rain was pretty miserable and rather smelly.

The words anorak and parka are now often used interchangeably, but when first introduced, they described somewhat different garments, and the distinction is still maintained by some.

Originally an anorak specifically implied a hooded pullover with a short zipper, or frogged opening, but this distinction is now largely lost where many garments with a full-length front opening are now described as anoraks It has evolved from traditional forms into a number of different designs using modern materials. Jackets, cagoules, canoeing cags have evolved from the original anorak.


The first major technological leap came in 1824 (according to our friends at Wikipedia) with the invention of the rubber rain jacket. Compared with the pre-existing options, this was a moonshot advancement. It became an old British navalwear staple that has now totally infiltrated the fashion scene.

Rubber rain jackets were (and are) undeniably waterproof. The obvious downside is that they’re heavy, stiff and not at all breathable. When you sweat, that moisture doesn’t escape the jacket, which can make for a no-fun-at-all experience, especially if you’re at all active and prefer not to be in a portable sauna.


An oilskin is a waterproof garment, typically worn by sailors and by others in wet areas. The modern oilskin garment was developed by a New Zealander, Edward Le Roy, in 1898. He used worn-out sailcloth painted with a mixture of linseed oil and wax to produce a waterproof, yet still breathable garment suitable to be worn in foul-weather conditions.

On the Baltic coast they sometimes organise Oilskin races. Participants wear oilskin suits over a layer of clothing. Then they run along the beach, through obstacles and puddles, until they swim out to a buoy and back. Everybody, including many spectators, gets soaking wet. Often there is a pool party afterwards where oilskin suits are mandatory.


It took over 100 years for the next major leap forward in waterproofing. In the early 1950s it was made from Nylon, but changed to poplin by 1959, when it featured in Vogue magazine as a fashion item.

With good sun protection nylon anoraks are ideal for sports where you are in and out of the water a lot, like beach games, canoeing, swimming, waterfall hiking, and more. They don't get heavy because they don't soak up much water.

Are Anoraks in Fashion Again?

Lucky for you, the anorak is back and very fashionable these days. It's amazing how many people wear anoraks. If you go to the right places you can suddenly see legions of them.

Anoraks have been in fashion (on and off) since Léon-Claude Duhamel in France (K-Way) and Noel Bibby in Britain (Peter Storm) came up with the concept of a lightweight pullover rain hoodie.

In the 1960's anoraks appeared in the chic cafés of Paris and on the football terraces of Britain, featuring a short neck zip and a handy front pouch to pack them away. Pullover anoraks were the deal again back in the '90s.

Now the low-bulk style is making a comeback, especially with the beach crowd, a must-have for your last minute fun splash or boating adventure. Most major clothing brands now have anoraks in the programme.

We're not talking space-age rubber, painful colors, or a frenzy of zippers. The new anoraks are slim, simple and sensible. Think of them as summer hoodies that you can also wear in the water because they are light and quick drying. They can be rolled up into a very compact package and carried in a bag or pocket.

Designed for all sorts of wet fun, anoraks are pullover windbreakers, nylon or cotton, with a short zip opening, fixed adjustable hood, drawstrings at the waist, and a front pocket to keep your keys and pennies safe. The fabric is thin and soft and dries quickly after you've been in the water. Just jump in and get wet.

Anoraks are a good compromise between bulk and versatility. You may want something light and simple to handle uncertain weather, a mild rainy afternoon, or for those unseasonably cool nights that creep up every now and then.

Geeks, Nerds, and Anoraks

In Britain, the word anorak is also a term for people whose interests are perceived to be nerdy, or who have more expertise in an arcane topic than seems rational, like an interest in anoraks and swimming. The 90's saw a change of attitude towards at least one type of person, the one who had previously been seen as a loser and a misfit. Why was that? Because it was that type of person who seemed to understand new technology well.

Being an anorak nerd never looked as good or was as much fun. nerds swimming in anoraks

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